- He mine is viable because of the mineral prices upturn
- Molale claims though it is possible to re-open the mine an obstacle could be the liquidation process
- Mines interested in sending their concentrate to BCL for smelting-Keorapetse
FRANCISTOWN: It is possible to re-open BCL at any time due to the significant copper-nickel price upturn; which has resulted in the return to viability of the mine operations, the Minister of Mineral Resources Green Technology and Energy Security Eric Molale has confirmed.
The Minister has vehemently denied that the government made a mistake in closing the mine, insisting that at the time of closure circumstance was conducive to the decision. Molale confirmed to Parliament last week that while he would not admit that the government made a mistake in shutting down the mine and placing it under liquidation in 2016, there now existed opportunities for re-opening BCL because of the rise in copper-nickel prices. “When the mine was closed down in 2016 it was with the full notion that there could be prospects of re-opening it. And I can confirm that the report that we have indicates that re-opening the copper mine in Selibe-Phikwe BCL is now viable because of the prices upturn. The copper-nickel prices have made an upturn as it has always been the case therefore bringing opportunities and prospects of re-opening the mine,” Molale told the parliament.
Molale’s address to parliament last week is in stark contrast to Cabinet’s decision to close the mine and ignore the recommendations by the Board of Minerals Development Company Botswana (MDCB) who had resolved to place the mine under care and maintenance. MDCB had opted to place BCL under care and maintenance in the hope that commodity prices would rise allowing for the mine to continue operations when conditions became favourable. According to reports at the time, Cabinet rejected the proposal due to inability of BCL to produce a sufficiently high-grade commodity and its depleting resource of Nickel and Copper that would enable it to be commercially viable.
Molale informed parliament that the prospects of re-opening the mine are viable because investors have approached the Liquidator and showed interest in buying the mine. “There are investors who have shown interest in buying BCL therefore it is possible to re-open the mine at any time provided the Liquidator sells it. So it is up to the Liquidator to sell the mine,” maintained the Minister.
In explaining how to achieve the re-opening of the mine Molale explained that assets could be given to government and placed under judicial management in order to dispose them off. “It is possible to re-open the mine at any time but an obstacle could be the liquidation process. But it could be possible if the mine assets are given the government to find ways of disposing them off. If this happens we can place the assets under judicial management and dispose of them so that interested companies can buy them and start the mining operations,” added Molale. Legal experts have been quick to highlight that the legal process of liquidation does not work in such a manner and that government cannot be “given” assets, which belong to a company, even though government is ultimately the sole shareholder.
To fast track the liquidation process according to the Ministers a task force to work with the Liquidator has been established. “In order to fast-track the liquidation process the government has set up a task force of professionals who will be working with the Liquidator to find how the feasibility study could be conducted,” Molale added.
The Minister was responding questions from the Member of Parliament for Selibe-Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse who has wanted to know if the latter is aware that copper-nickel and other metal prices have risen, adding that there is need to give serious consideration to reopening the mine .
According to Keorapetse in the document titled Business Report BCL Mining Operation it has been indicated that BCL has sufficient mineral reserves/resources that can last well into the future and that the reserves are of sufficient quality to be mined commercially to end of mine life.Official BCL resources stand at 25 million tonnes at grades of 0.66%Ni and 0.77Cu, 2.7million tonnes measured resources at 0.86%Ni and 0.98%Cu.
Keorapetse informed parliament that two of the BCL mine shafts and one from Selkirk can be opened immediately. “We have a fully developed and well defined ore body at these areas and these are high grade, high tonnage areas. The idea can be to mine, concentrate and sell. This would generate revenue that could be used to resuscitate the smelter because we warned that the smelter will need high capital to restart. The base metal industry in Zimbabwe is doing well with the same model of mining, concentrating and selling without smelting. Even Nkomati in South Africa is doing the same thing. We know this model will work. I am reliably informed that some copper mines in the DRC are interested in sending their concentrate to Selibe-Phikwe for smelting, mines such as Kisenda Copper Mine, Frontier Mine, Kipoya Mine etcetera are currently smelting in Zambia which cannot keep up with their volumes. We are aware that investors have been scared away by the Liquidator who is profiting heftily from the process by asking prospective buyers to assume the P2.8 billion environmental rehabilitation liability,” Keorapetse pointed out when raising questions over the prospects of re-opening BCL.